(Note: I write these thoughts while waiting for the midnight hour to strike the first hour of the new year. There is noise all around, and fireworks of all kinds lit the starless sky, the fireworks becoming instant stars whose quicksilver promsie of light is entinguished not long after these are ignited and sent to soar in the heavens. I think of home, the homeland, and countrymen. I think of all the motions that go into this facetious rite, one that is literally empty. Then again, we have to look for meaning even when there is none, and I wrote this piece to fulfill that obligation, hoping that the new year comes with its freshness, its novelty, its new promise of hope.)
Your first New Year in Oahu, this 2007.
You stand at the corner of Hoaeae and Hanowai at this midnight that the last clock of December gives in to the first hour of January. The gathering noise from firecrackers lighted all around gives a cover to your unnamed pain as a voluntary exile. In this corner, one of the highest elevations in Waipahu, you see the outline of Pearl Harbor. With the quick glow of costly fireworks that by Chinese thought are meant to drive away the evil spirits, you usher in new thoughts and the best of good luck for the coming year. In this place, you witness for the first time the exchange of sights and sounds from all directions, the display in the ground and in the sky spectacular, the sound a boom beat that is capable of breaking the eardrums. When you were young, you remember your father, your two younger brothers and you gathered on a hilltop with your home-made bamboo cannon with the gunpowder. The boom the crude instrument created was sufficient to welcome the innocent years of your young lives, you and your siblings, some innocence your father helped cultivate.
Oahu, the island you are residing in now, is “the gathering place” in the Hawaiian language.
Kings and rulers and their handpicked supporters came here a long time ago to meet up and decide on important issues concerning the islands before some power-holders and power-trippers decided that these islands belong to some other more powerful dream beyond these islands. It is the dream of a new empire, a new manifest destiny, a new mission on spreading democracy so that capital can get into the coffers of investors and industrialists and their allies.
The power is that one of imagination—and the imagination of the borderless reach of commerce and profit and the extension of an empire so other nations would know that a newly-born empire is about to declare its military might. This is your United States Mainland with its expanding vision of what a powerful nation ought to look like and behave politically, geographically, and commercially.
Oahu in these islands promises an ultimate insular life, an insular fever. It is your quintessential barrio life in the Ilocos, the life with its share of inconsequential people with their penchant for easy sensationalism. The easy sensationalism is calculated to pursue their career for self-importance, to magnify their smallness, and to advertise their lack of grace by passing it off as their own self-defined version of magnanimity of spirit. The easy targets are those with more brilliant ideas, the ideas the ones these inconsequential people cannot have precisely because they cannot fathom them. So they go mercenary, in a manner that is artsy but ultimately artless by decapitating others. That done, they do rise, and rise to quicksilver stardom like these little stars the fireworks create for our eyes to see for a quick second and they are gone.
You smile the smile of someone who cannot believe what you are seeing. You raise your arms in the air, in total surrender to all the forces of life that make it certain that things go by the edict of some grand story somewhere, the story by someone grander that anyone of the small and little men and women and children that we all are. We are, simply put, a speck in the universe, an almost invisibel dot in the whole schemata of things and the sooner that we realize this, we do not go by Jose Garcia Villa's man who challenges his creator.
Think positive, you tell yourself, recalling Norman Vincent Peale’s feel-good advise in the 70s when your homeland was in quandary because everyone was promising a good society for everyone and not only for some residents of some fancy palaces of power. Include their cohorts and you have a cabal of bastards shanghaiing the basic human rights of cowering Filipinos. The fact that some good-for-nothing Ilokano writers chose either to become allies to this cabal of bastards or to remain silent is one for the books. But those were interesting times, and we all were living in those interesting times—or at least we were pretending to live normal lives. Oh, the rewards for court-jesting were great, insurmountable. And those who got some of the crumbs of power and court-jesting are still around, tormenting us with their holier-than-thou attitude.
What am I doing here in this transition time? you ask yourself.
You understand that there is a problem with your figure of speech here, but this is the tropics, and the tropic requirement for a kind of writing in your mind accepts the metaphor. The abominable writers with their abominable cowardice will not catch you. You are taking the liberty to get mixed up with your mixed metaphors. You tell yourself that this is the time for renewal, for molting, for leaving all the negative thoughts behind, throw them to the wind so that the strong and fierce wind would carry them away, to the vast waters yonder, to the heavens that can give the proper absolution for all your errors and deficits in the heart.
You gather yourself in this noise, in the din, in the dim, in this spectacle that comes to this place only once a year. Hawaii is the last place in the whole world to welcome the New Year, you remind yourself. Your family back home has celebrated it and the wife must have accounted the bills that she hang on her curtains to welcome the promise of good wealth and good vibes, she being some twenty-five percent Chinese through her mother’s bloodline. And with your bloodline of brown Chinese in the Ilocos, your household must really be creeping with a certain degree of Chinese-ness, what with the ubiquitous atang—the food offering—you asked your wife to do in remembrance of the anitos and all the spirits of the universe including the spirits of the dearly departed, in thanksgiving as well for the old year, and in welcoming the new year with its mystical significance, with the seven at its end.
So many thoughts come to you, in ripples, in profusion, in downpour, as if waves and sweat and rain are all coming together in a number of seconds that you watch one huge lighted fireworks, the one looking like a huge intestines, one end tied to a pole, the other down on the ground, and as soon as it is lighted, the sparks come in like a dancer in a trance, and the boom coming in quick steps, the sparks and the boom creating an accapella of primal rhythm you remember for the many new years you have witnessed, the last four in these faraway land.
The good thoughts are many, with Sinamar Robianes Tabin calling you to say hello, and greet you with the best thoughts for the New Year and telling you of the need to move on, go on, and pursue to the end one dream that is not for the pursuers but for the generations that will come after them. You return the greeting back, promising your gifts, your assistance, your love for the language and the culture of the people whose abode you come from, the abode of their spirits, the indwelling of their souls. “I have with me the hymn for the group,” says she at the other end of the line some miles away into the deep of the white Christmas country, out there in the big Salt Lake City, not the same named smaller city you have in Oahu but somewhere in the heart of Utah where Filipinos are now going and settling and building lives, inspite of the snow and the long nights of the winter season. "Nakalamlamiis itatta," she tells you, and you imagine her and Manong Loring Tabin all bundled up, with the thermals and the heavy jackets, and their lips on fire, with the smoke of the cold air coming between the teeth that clatter once in a while. You know there is the hearth, the fireplace in those postcard perfect houses. But the heat of the tropics is not the same warth you all remember, you who have chosen to leave the homeland, enamored by the kind thought that you will somehow build a life in strange places. Or so you dream, and dream big.
You look at the lights in the night sky, the lights banishing the darkness for a time, and then the starlings come in quick brilliance, stunning you, rendering you awe-struck and thinking, “How could they have thought of making small joys and spectacles out of gunpowder?” You could have been more ethnically appropriate, “What wisdom was there among the Chinese that they have known the magical powers of fireworks upon a sad, exilic heart?”
There is that euphoric feeling in there, and your pulse beats faster, that same feeling that you have got when you have confirmed that genuine comradeship of friends of the pen.
You keep their names in your heart, believing that their names are all-too sacred to be pronounced or mispronounced. You know that are people like that, revered and respected in silence because they deserved all of the reverence and respect, in fullness and in that quietude you cannot deny, in that quietude that language is full and entire, and lying and pretensions are not possible.
The smell of gunpowder gets into your lungs now. You walk around, and the spectacle of this evening gets to heat up, with the night sky now filled with all the sparkling lights.
With that feeling of euphoria now slowly being exiled, you connect with the universe and all the exiles all over the world, all the Filipino exiles in more than one hundred twenty countries, and say a little prayer for their families and loved ones. You see a million like you, you hear them, you imagine them, you have them in your mind—and you can only heave a deep sigh.
With the New Year, you remind yourself, hope springs eternal. A clique, but it is eternal and true.
A Solver Agcaoili
Dec 31/06-Jan 1/07